The first day of a brand new season at Cheltenham takes centre stage this afternoon, one of five meetings across Britain and Ireland as we head into the weekend.
The Cotswolds venue is joined over jumps by Sligo, while Flat racing comes from the all-weather meetings at Lingfield in the afternoon and Wolverhampton and Dundalk go under the Friday Night Lights later on.
We’ve got three fancies from Friday’s cards, including one for champion trainer Paul Nicholls as racing returns to Cheltenham after the summer hiatus.
15:55 Cheltenham – Kamsinas @ 7/2
Earlier in the afternoon, look out for locally-based trained Fergal O’Brien as he saddles promising KAMSINAS in The Sharp Novices’ Hurdle, the Grade 2 feature over the Supreme Novices’ course and distance.
It might be a touch premature to be daring to dream of the Festival curtain-raiser in March, but O’Brien and Paddy Brennan will fancy they have a smart hurdles prospect on their hands nonetheless.
Kamsinas made very short work of his opening task in this sphere at Worcester (2m, good) earlier this month, ranging alongside his rivals before cruising clear without coming off the bridle.
He’d shown good bumper form in the spring and looks an exciting recruit for the Cotswolds-based trainer, especially in these early skirmishes of the season.
He’s on the Most Napped table via the Betfred Betfinder today and can justify that berth despite facing some fellow unexposed types in Irish raider Toto Too and Dan Skelton’s Williethebuilder.
17:05 Cheltenham – Lallygag @ 13/2
The final race on the first afternoon of the Showcase Meeting at Cheltenham is the Abu Dhabi Digital Markets Handicap Hurdle and it is a Betfred Extra Place Race (five places) in which LALLYGAG can shine for champion trainer Paul Nicholls.
The 6YO ran very well at this venue in April over 2m4½f on good ground, finishing third in what has proved a strong race form-wise, with the front two franking the form next time at Haydock, while a next-time-out Aintree winner was in behind the principles.
Having started his hurdles career with figures of 1121 last season, Lallygag had then finished third behind the smart Nicky Henderson mare Luccia at Exeter in February before his run here.
Nicholls opted to skip The Festival in March and there should be further progress from Lallygag this season He has won fresh, is only rated 1lb higher now and has Freddie Gingell, who is good value for his 7lb claim, on board.
With those five places to aim at, they look like major players in Friday’s Cheltenham finale.
18:45 Wolverhampton – Aratus @ 6/1
The lights will be on at Dunstall Park in Wolverhampton this evening and ARATUS is one to note for Clive Cox in the 7f handicap at 18:45, a Betfred Super Extra Place Race (four places).
Cox has had to be patient with Aratus, as his four-time winner (4-11) returns from 381 days on the sidelines here.
The son of Free Eagle easily scored at Kempton over 7f in November 2020 on his sole previous AW start. He returned the following July with a win at Doncaster, before completing a protracted four-timer with successes at Newbury and Goodwood in August.
Last summer he ran with plenty of promise at times, but often came up a touch short in some very valuable handicaps in a sequence of four runs at Ascot, while third-place finishes at Leicester bookended his campaign.
He’s undergone a wind op since we saw him last, has dropped down to a workable mark of 94 and, given his record fresh, is of interest with Hollie Doyle in the saddle for the first time.